- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2022

An illegal immigrant told Border Patrol agents she and her husband were going to be charged an extra $4,000 smuggling fee to be brought deeper into the U.S. after her smugglers realized she was too big to make it in their usual smuggling method.

Minely Beatriz Ramirez-Valdez was part of a group nabbed inside a Peterbilt semitrailer at a Border Patrol highway checkpoint en route from southern Texas to Houston last Thursday.

Ms. Ramirez, who agents said was eight months pregnant, told them she had rafted across the Rio Grande two weeks prior, walked several hours to a pickup spot and was shuttled around before landing in a stash house where she waited for smugglers to figure out what to do with her.

Normally, the smugglers stuff migrants under the bed of a truck’s sleeping cab. But she was too large to fit, she later told agents, according to a Border Patrol affidavit.

Ramirez stated, due to the increased difficulty in smuggling her, the smuggler who did the coordinating and the collecting of money increased the price by $4,000,” wrote Agent Ramon Mendoza Jr.

Agent Mendoza did not say how much Ms. Ramirez or her husband, who was with her, were paying before the $4,000 pregnancy fee was tacked on, but The Washington Times’ database of smuggling cases shows migrants from Central America are paying an average of $11,500 for the trip this year, up from $9,000 in 2020.

Ms. Ramirez appears to be from Guatemala, based on the agent’s filings.

As she and her husband waited at a stash house, they began to fear her pregnancy was in jeopardy, and they didn’t have the additional $4,000 fee.

She told agents she begged the smugglers to let her seek medical help, but the smugglers refused. She said they worried she would snitch on them and reveal the stash house location.

The smugglers finally gave up on alternatives and hastily arranged for Ms. Ramirez to be stuffed under a truck’s sleeping bed. She was too big, but the truck driver “forcefully pushed the bed closed” to seal her and another migrant in, the agent said in his affidavit.

Three other migrants climbed on cabinets in the truck’s sleeping area.

Agents manning a highway checkpoint near Falfurrias, Texas, flagged the Peterbilt truck for an X-ray scan. They spotted the migrants on the image and freed Ms. Ramirez and the other four migrants.

She was taken to a hospital for treatment, then released the next day.

Prosecutors identified Jose Armando Wong-Lopez as the driver of the truck. They have charged him with alien smuggling.

He denied knowledge of the aliens in an interview with agents, saying everything appeared normal when he got into the truck to drive north.

While waiting for the smugglers to figure out what to do about her, Ms. Ramirez overheard them talking about other loads. One, driven by a woman named Carmen, made it to Houston without being detected. But another, driven by a man named Juan, was nabbed.

It was Juan’s first time in eight years of smuggling that he’d been caught, Ms. Ramirez recalled the smugglers saying.

Drivers typically earn about $1,000 for each person they smuggle through the highway checkpoints between southern Texas and Houston, though some drivers tell agents they can make as much as $2,000 per person.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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